Stress is at an all-time high right now. And it’s about to get worse.

The holidays are notorious for increasing stress as people deal with the financial burden of trying to provide for their families, the pressure of relatives visiting, and the expectations of gifts, food, parties, etc. Workers have an increased pressure to provide as the job market is being decimated around them. 

Unfortunately, elevated levels of stress commonly cause anxiety, depression, stomach aches, or other physical symptoms. In worse cases, prolonged stress can lead to personality disorders, heart problems, and even stroke. More commonly around the holiday season, stress leads to suicide. According to Roll Call, the nation’s suicide rate had already reached historic highs before the pandemic (the highest since World War ll). This has only been worsened by COVID-19, as people are spending longer periods of time isolated. Even worse, some are unemployed or have less access to health resources.

Of course, there are expensive over-the-counter remedies that can help alleviate stress, but money might be tight right now, and medication doesn’t always work. Fortunately, there is one underutilized stress reliever that is free to everyone: breathing. While this may sound ludicrous, hear me out. 

Studies show that emotions are associated with different forms of breathing. Therefore, changing how we breathe changes how we feel. Think about how you breathe when you’re mad. Your breathing is irregular, short, and shallow. When you feel calm, your breaths are typically long, full, and deep.

So, how do you use this info? Start by changing the length of your inhale and exhale. When you inhale, your heart rate speeds up. When you exhale, it slows. The goal is to slow the rate of your heartbeat by breathing out for longer. Try to breathe out for 6 – 8 seconds. When you breathe deeply, your brain sends a message to your body to calm down and relax. As mentioned previously, stress symptoms like increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure will decrease as you breathe deeply.

There are several different breathing exercises you can find online. Many of these you can do easily while at work (no need to lie flat on the floor or something like that). You can even do them quietly at your desk or in your workplace. 

Just remember, the next time you are feeling stressed and panicky, take a few minutes to breathe deeply and see how you feel. You will notice a difference.

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